If you live in Ontario, Quebec or New Brunswick, you'll be heading to the polls this year to elect new provincial governments. And, because it's an election year, you can expect to see political ads – lots of them.
But political advertising has evolved. Unlike traditional advertising media such as radio, television and print, Facebook ads can be targeted to specific users (say, people aged 18 to 24 who work in agriculture in Ontario) and only be seen by certain subsets of users, making the ads almost impossible to track.
Because they're so customizable, Facebook ads are now a core part of a party's messaging strategy. However, while we've seen many reports on what a big role Facebook ads played during the recent U.S. presidential election, we still know almost nothing about how these ads are being used in Canada.
The Globe and Mail wants to report on how these ads are used, but we need to see the same ads Facebook users are seeing, so we're working with ProPublica, a U.S. investigative journalism non-profit. ProPublica has designed a browser extension – the Facebook Political Ads Collector – that logs political ads into a database for future reporting.
The Globe will use the data, processed through ProPublica, exclusively for editorial purposes.
This is where you come in: By installing the browser extension, you can help The Globe keep track of the thousands of political ads served on Facebook, which will be collected by ProPublica.
What is being collected by ProPublica?
At no time will ProPublica or The Globe have the ability to know which ads are being shown to which user. The extension is designed to collect only the text, links, images and metadata within a political ad on Facebook. The political ad data that ProPublica collects will be contributed to a public database, viewable through the extension itself, that will allow the public to see them all.
How does this work?
ProPublica has developed Google Chrome and Firefox extensions that will scan your Facebook feed for political ads and log them into a database for reporting and analysis. ProPublica's Facebook Political Ad Collector uses machine learning algorithms to determine whether a Facebook ad is likely to be political in nature, and it is trained to identify a country's particular political ads. The source code for the collector is open source and available for public inspection at any time at this address.
What will The Globe have access to?
The Globe will be provided access to a secure database maintained and owned exclusively by ProPublica with data for all collected Canadian Facebook political ads. At no point will The Globe own ProPublica's database or the data within it. The Globe will use this data for exclusively editorial purposes.
How can I help?
Once you install the extension, ProPublica's collector will monitor your feed for political ads and send them to ProPublica's database.
What do I get out of this?
Aside from assisting The Globe in reporting on the evolving use of Facebook political advertisements within Canada, ProPublica's extension will use its database to show you Facebook political ads that weren't specifically targeted at you and that you would otherwise never see.